Do Music Moguls Know a Secret About K-Pop?


Friday, March 16, 2pm, Austin Convention Center Room 11AB

Wait, do music moguls know a secret about Korean pop? It's not much of a secret anymore.

Not when Hyuna Kim's ode to teenage experience, "Bubble Pop!," racks up 25 million views on YouTube with only two words of English in the lyrics. Not when G-Dragon & T.O.P.'s strutting "Knock Out" reflects the sort of hallucinogenic pop we haven't heard since Missy Elliott. Not when the world's most popular girl group, Girls' Generation, is David Letterman's musical guest. K-pop has been greeted on American shores with Interscope deals and Pitchfork thinkpieces.

"I think what's made K-pop so appealing is that it's developed bands and brands instead of individual stars," says Adam Ware, panel moderator and CEO of Asian-culture network Mnet. "Each band member plays a certain personality, maybe not as specifically as Sporty Spice, but they're all characters. That leaves a lot of room for fans. You'll have 16-year-old girls that really like the 16-year-old member, and a 21-year-old girl who really likes the 21-year-old member."

It's a formula perfected a generation ago with the world-conquering personalities of the Orlando, Fla., boy bands. It's also a template the American pop machine has distanced itself from recently, favoring grown-up, PG-13 divas. The Koreans still work in the vintage mold, favoring a spectacle of the neon, scream-until-your-throat-bleeds pop show. It's working, too; a quick Google of "K-pop flash mob" brings up giddy teenagers from London to Moscow dutifully replicating the choreography on city streets.

"You haven't seen anything like that since Motown," says Ware.

The debate that will probably consume a good percentage of this panel's discussion is whether pop in an exotic language can ever permanently puncture America. Can K-pop stick if we can't sing along in our cars? Ware thinks K-pop succeeds simply because it's widely available and it feels different.

"There's no misogyny or ego, and the press isn't concerned with the sex lives or drug habits of these groups," he says. "It's fresh air from what we're used to."

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